In the early 20th century, when feminism was still a fledgling movement in India, a woman initiating a live-in relationship with a man was considered sacrilege. Srikanta, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s protagonist in the eponymous novel, too, was a product of this time. But when he presents his orthodox opinion on Abhaya’s decision, she defuses every argument with intelligent responses.
A scene from the play
Srikanta — a nomad who believes that every new experience enriches him — may be the central character of the tome, but the women he encounters during his travels are equally important. No wonder then that Chattopadhyay’s work is considered the first modern Indian novel. Published in four parts over 16 years, it will be brought to life on stage this weekend as Under the Gypsy Moon. Directed by Akash Khurana, the play features Arghya Lahiri, Omkar Kulkarni, Shivraj Waichal, Aastha Arora and Radhika Chopra in crucial roles.
“There has always been a curiosity surrounding Bengali literature. I had never worked in that space before. The work is marvellous in its complexity and simple in its exposition. It’s Dickensian. I’ve tried to maintain that style in the play’s stylised narrative,” shares Khurana over an email from London. Was the task of adapting the novel into a play challenging? “Most people enamoured by Srikanta would look upon its theatrical adaptation as foolhardiness. I agree. Except that Srikanta is one of the most fascinating protagonists in Indian literature, and distilling the essence of the novel for the stage was a Sisyphean task I was willing to undertake.”
The adaptation also paints a picture of the life and culture of Bengal in the pre-Independence era. Which is why baul songs, Nazrul Geeti and Rabindra Sangeet are a part of the play. The play touches upon issues that were often considered taboo. How far have we come since then? “Although the book was set in early 20th-century Bengal, the issues of women’s emancipation, caste and religion are still relevant today,” answers Khurana. “That is why he is arguably the first modern Indian novelist.”
ON: September 30 (7.30 pm); October 1 (4.30 pm and 7.30pm)
AT: St Andrew’s Auditorium, Bandra West.
LOG ON TO: bookmyshow.com
ENTRY: Rs 300 onwards
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